DEC 22, 2021 7:23 AM PST

How the Internet Affects How Smart We Think We Are

WRITTEN BY: Alexandria Bass

New research from the University of Texas at Austin on the interface between humans and Google shows Google can give us an inflated ego when it comes to our own memory abilities and intellect.

Adrian Ward, an assistant professor of marketing whose study on this topic was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, examined how people in two groups, one with and one without access to Google, evaluated their own knowledge when completing short quizzes of general knowledge. Those with access to Google rated themselves as having better memories and were more confident in predicting they would score better on future quizzes without the help of the internet.

As stated in the widely-cited 2011 paper on the "Google effect," Google actually makes people less likely to retain new information because they know they will have access to the internet to search it again later.

These studies bring up the interesting notion of how the concept of human memory gets redefined with our ever-changing technology. As Ward put it, the line between the mind and the internet is being blurred into what may one day be thought of as an "Intermind" where the computer is our "neural prosthesis." With Tesla's Elon Musk developing Neuralink's brain implants to help quadriplegics one day use their thoughts to control computers, that day may not be too far away.

But Steven Sloman, a professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown University, put it in perspective: that the internet and Google are nothing more than a modern version of what's been going on for centuries to shape the concept of memory. Memory is not just this isolated phenomenon contained inside each individual brain from our own solitary efforts. Memory and our knowledge are a communal effort – an extension of ideas we've gotten from family, friends, and other people through verbal or written communication. Google just happens to make our access to this knowledge quicker and less social – and makes us think we're smarter than we are.

Sources: NBC News, Science, CNBC

About the Author
BA in Psychology
Alexandria (Alex) is a freelance science writer with a passion for educating the public on health issues. Her other professional experience includes working as a speech-language pathologist in health care, a research assistant in a food science laboratory, and an English teaching assistant in Spain. In her spare time, Alex enjoys cycling, lap swimming, jogging, and reading.
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